Float success puts builder on Crest of a wave

HOUSEBUILDER Crest Nicholson signalled more economic optimism as it priced its flotation at the upper end of expectations.

Stephen Stone

After initially being priced at 220p, with an opening market value of £553m, its shares surged in the first day of conditional dealing.

By close of trading yesterday its shares were worth 255p, giving the group a market value of £641m.

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Crest had originally set a price range of 195-230p for its shares.

The first significant initial public offering (IPO) of the year follows a strong start for the stock market in 2013 and improved trading by listed housebuilders.

Chief executive Stephen Stone said: “We are delighted that our initial public offering has been successful and there has been strong interest from investors.

“This is the first significant IPO of 2013 which bodes well for our industry and the wider market.

“Having spent 39 of our 50 years as a listed company, we look forward to re-joining the public markets.”

Crest was taken private by Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter and mortgage lender Halifax Bank of Scotland in 2007 as the property market was beginning to crumble.

The downturn led to two debt restructurings in 2009 and 2011, placing it in the hands of American hedge fund Varde Partners and Deutsche Bank.

The IPO raised about £225m, with Crest raising £56m, which it plans to use to pay down debt. Shareholders including Varde and Deutsche Bank also raised about £169m.

The 2007 takeover valued Crest at around £715m. 

Mr Stone has spent the past two weeks meeting investors in the UK, Germany and United States to drum up support.

Listed housebuilders including Persimmon, Barratt Developments and Bovis Homes have been reporting improved profits and increased output in recent months, aided by building on land acquired cheaply during the downturn, plus Government stimulus schemes.

Crest recently said it had a short-term land bank with 16,959 plots on 72 sites as of October, of which more than 95 per cent was in the South of England. Its land bank had an estimated gross development value of £3.9bn.

It also has a ‘strategic’ land bank with 12,623 plots on 26 sites – worth an estimated £2.9bn.

The builder sold 23.8 per cent more homes in the year to the end of October 2012 at 1,882 completions.

It aims to increase annual volumes to 2,500 homes within three to four years, but plans to keep its London and South-East focus. It said this will be possible without significant extra overheads or structural changes.

Chris Searle, capital markets partner at accountants BDO, said: “It’s good to see a high profile IPO so early in the year.  It seems to have been quite a success, with the shares being priced towards the upper end of the range, indicating that there was decent demand from investors.

“Whether the success of the Crest Nicholson IPO heralds a general upturn in the fortunes of the London IPO market remains to be seen but, together with the general improvement in sentiment since the start of the year, this is an encouraging early sign.”